Opinion

The 4 Technologies Making 'Digital Oilfields' A Reality


The long-held and oft-hyped vision of the ‘Digital Oilfield' truly has an opportunity to deliver results for oil and gas operations now.  It's not just a promise of the future. Key disruptive technologies are making the data infrastructure cheaper and faster to bring the latest automation and AI-driven functionality to the field.

Oil and gas operators are keen to leverage learnings from hi-tech, retail, consumer-driven industries that have been trialing the financial and operational viability of these technologies. Mobility, cloud, and to some extent even machine learning and AI are ready to tip the oil and gas sector over the paper-pushing, human labor-intensive, data cliff.

At the same time as technology is creating faster inroads to data, leading companies are rapidly evolving their lean operations. In spite of rising oil prices, the market is less forgiving of companies that cannot identify and solve production challenges more efficiently. Oil and gas operators cannot go back to throwing more people at the problem. Instead, they are now turning to technology to drive down costs while meeting production targets.

Power Up with Cost-Effective Cloud Computing  

Oil and gas companies seek out the scalability and ease of innovation that cloud computing promises. The reality is that many are weighed down by existing investments in on-premise data centers and security concerns. However, the truth is that security of cloud computing is no longer a concern and fears surrounding data ownership are no longer justified.

Instead of looking at cloud as an all-in option, begin to review possible business applications that provide the most value and least business disruption. On-premise technologies cannot keep pace with cloud providers' capacity to innovate and scale for data-intensive environments.

The cloud provides the oil and gas industry a formidable time machine to level-up on functional innovation in areas that on-premise solutions have failed, such as field intelligence and production planning. They can offer all of that without the need for large capital expenditure while providing assurances over the ownership of their data and security. In fact, established systems like AWS offer far better protection from cyber attacks than a small company could realistically provide for themselves.

Distribute Data with Intuitive Mobility

As computing power became ubiquitous in the past decade, so have mobile platforms. The proliferation of superior mobile devices among service, maintenance and inspection roles has been staggering over the last decade. In comparison, the oil and gas industry, who run space age drilling and pumping technologies, have been slow to adopt above the ground production-based field intelligence.

The slow pace of change is exacerbated by the lack of innovation among incumbent production software vendors. Incumbents have traditionally built field “mobility” with back-office production accounting requirements in the forefront. The lease operator and field personnel operational goals are much more nuanced than just capturing production volumes. The field is also accountable for every compliance activity, expense category and lift methodology that goes into producing oil and gas.

This mobility revolution is about giving information to the people who need it when they need it. Lease operators, for example, sometimes have to drive an hour and a half between wells. However, knowing the status of wells in real-time allows them to prioritize the locations they are needed most. “Smart” mobility apps will help them handle to complexities of managing both unplanned and planned events, such as environmental compliance inspections, that also influence who goes where and in what order.

Own the Big Data Engine

While cloud and mobility ease the computing and generation of data, big data analytics addresses the process by which the Digital Oilfield truly comes of age. These powerful number-crunching engines feed on continuous streams of data from all areas, then provide trustworthy, actionable intelligence to support better decision-making across all areas of the oil and gas lifecycle.

Like any engine, big data processors depend on quality fuel. Inaccurate data is useless and even harmful to companies, like the wrong fuel in an engine. Basing decisions on incorrect information may lead to misallocation of resources and costly delays. Trust is also fundamental when deciding who handles your data. To maintain trust, it's essential that the oil and gas company has total ownership over that data.

Many service companies tout ‘turn-key' applications without access to the underlying operator data, under the promise of better intelligence. Remember, you don't have to give up ownership to get the most from your data. The best cloud software providers create clear designated access points to the analytics, so oil and gas firms own and have access to their data anytime.

Turbo-Charge Production with Artificial Intelligence

As big data enables automation, AI turbo-charges it. Especially when it comes to production planning, an area ripe with opportunities for the Digital Oilfield. The AI self-learns using the data available and focuses on functions that are mission critical to support decisions and prioritize tasks. Applied to traditionally labor-intensive processes, such as run tickets or routing, companies automate processes for greater efficiency and better prioritize high-value problems to maximize production.   

Many of the systems making their way into oil and gas operations require constant monitoring by a team of people, defeating the purpose of having an intelligent system. The traditional image of an Oilfield Decision Support Center where armies of experts sit in front of screens monitoring vital field data needs to be relegated to the annals of history. The focus should be on harnessing the best of both elements by improving human-machine cooperation. This is the true revolutionary shift.

Each Challenge is Unique - Each Solution Should Be Too

As we move into a new age of data-driven technology oil and gas firms must consider all the tools at their disposal and see what they can leverage. They must look at their unique situation and consider the resources available to them, then make smart choices about how best to adopt technology to move forward. Those who do that well will be the champions of this new era in oil and gas.

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